I was utterly dazzled last night by Giotto's remarkable frescos in Padova's Scrovegni Chapel, an absolute jewel box of fantastic art.
I am also feeling a bit dazed by everything that I have crammed into the past several days (Slow Travel, this isn't!) Certainly, my wonderful Saturday in Venice deserves a post of its own, including photos of several shrines that I saw during the day -- inspired, of course, by Annie!
But I'm going to jump ahead of that to Tuesday evening -- I'm playing fast and loose with Time, because Time is playing fast and loose with me. Seriously, at some points, I'm feeling a bit confused about what century this is, when I'm surrounded by so much medieval art and its stories and conventions. Some are repeated so often that I'm expecting to run into Saint Sebastian or John the Baptist at any moment. At the very least, here in Ferrara, I'd expect to see one of the Estes!
But viewing Giotto's Padova frescos describing the lives of Mary and her son Jesus was an incredible experience. The brilliant colours of these frescos are still so fresh, it seems to me, and the characters seem so simply painted yet convey so much emotion that I was truly gobsmacked (BTW, I have a patent pending on the use of that word.)
The double-turn entry ticket that I booked in advance worked brilliantly -- it gave me a full 40 minutes inside the small chapel, because the regular 15 or minutes simply wouldn't be enough time. The double-turn is only available after 7 p.m., which was a great advantage as only a few others entered at the same time as me. We rushed around like fools for the first 5 or 10 minutes, trying to see everything at once for fear we would run out of time! I calmed down fairly quickly, however, since I knew I had the luxury of a bit extra time. Alas, I can no longer move my neck from all of the craning, but it was worth it!
Rules for visiting the Scrovegni Chapel are very, very strict: pre-booking is mandatory and most tickets allow only a 15-minute visit. (This, after a full 15 minutes in a kind of decontamination room, where the air-conditioning presumably cools your body's temperature, important to prevent hordes of hot, humid visitors like me from scorching Giotto's frescos right off the walls.)
Before my visit, I worried a bit about the lighting in the evening in the chapel. But it was beautifully lit artificially, and as a bonus, the setting sun shone throught a high, west-facing window to light up a gold halos around a dazzling Christ!
This evening was one of the highlights of my trip. I really admire Giotto's work and have made several visits to San Francesco in Assisi to see what may (or may not) be his work. It seems there is some question about how much of the design and work there is really his. I chose to believe Giotto was an important force in Assisi and I think that's supported by just how similar his work in Assisi is to that in the Scrovegni chapel.
Before this trip, I had watched Sister Wendy Beckett's Story of Painting, a DVD produced for the BBC, where she discusses the Scrovegni chapel and Giotto's efforts to capture the humanity of the people in his scenes.
She argues that while other artists of the time had loftier aims, often portraying the Holy Family or saints as being far above the rest of us, Giotto tried to portray them in his frescos as real humans with real emotions. In this way, the people of Padua and their visitors could relate to what they were seeing, for example, the pain Mary must have suffered as she cradled her dead son as portrayed in the above fresco of the Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ.)
Giotto's frescos date back about 700 years, which boggles my mind! Work on this chapel began in roughly 1300 when Enrico Scrovegni of Padua, wanting to build a palace and private chapel, bought a large piece of land in the area around the town's Roman amphitheatre -- known as the Arena. Which helps to explain why the word "Arena" is often associated with the Scrovegni chapel.
It seems that Scrovegni wanted to improve his family's standing with The Powers That Be -- Enrico was the ambitious son of the rich Reginaldo, whom Dante Alighieri had consigned to hell as a usurer in his Divine Comedy.The redemption of his father and the saving of his own soul were his foremost considerations when making this donation. The church was therefore dedicated on 16 March 1305 to Saint Mary of Charity.
All that remains today of his buildings is the single-nave church, known to many as the Arena Chapel because of its location. Scrovegni -- as well as Dante and Giotto himself -- are depicted in one of Giotto's frescoes, on the side of the Blessed at the Last Judgment.
The nave of the church is vaulted by a starry sky with the two centres of Christ and Mary, the Last Judgment in the west and the Annunciation in the east, witnessed by God. The story of Mary is narrated on the upper register of the walls - beginning with scenes from the lives of her parents, Joachim and Anne - and the youth of Christ and the story of his Passion are narrated on the two lower registers.
The frescoes in the Arena Chapel have been considered as Giotto's first mature masterpiece, and at the same time as an important milestone in the development of western painting.
The museum complex built up around the chapel includes a very interesting multi-media centre, including a film on the chapel (an extended version, I believe, of the film shown while visitors wait in the decontamination centre,) There are also several interactive applications that let you zoom in on particular works, to see these more clearly and read a better explanation of what they mean.
Today is my last day in the Emilia-Romagna region, and in Ferrara specifically. Which may be a good thing -- directly outside my hotel balcony, on Ferrara's beautiful Piazza Castello, hordes of workers have been setting up a huge stage for a major musical production Thursday night. With the stage so close I can touch it from my bedroom, I think it's time to get out of town!
Happily, by Thursday afternoon I'll be in Umbria!!!!